Friday, October 21, 2022

Upcoming lectures on two recent books

I’ll be a keynote speaker at the IEEE International Conference on Teaching, Assessment and Learning for Engineering (TALE) in December. My topic is “Why and How to Teach the Classic Papers,” and I will be describing the experience of reading about 50 classic computer science papers with about 150 computer science students per year. The course is Harvard’s CS191, and I have collected the papers, each with a brief introduction, into an MIT Press volume Ideas That Created the Future, now in its third printing.  

This conference is in Hong Kong. I will be speaking remotely on the evening of December 4 Boston time, morning of December 5 in Hong Kong.

Also, I will be delivering (in person!) the annual Thoralf Skolem memorial lecture at the University of Oslo on the afternoon of December 8. Skolem was an influential mathematician and logician; several of my early papers were inspired by his work on reduction classes for the predicate calculus, through which I became a friend and collaborator of the combinatorial genius Stål Aanderaa (known to computer scientists mainly as one parent of the Aanderaa-Karp-Rosenberg conjecture). Among the delights of this honor is the opportunity to once again see my old friend, with whom I did some of the most challenging work of my career.

The subject of my Skolem lecture will be “The Birth of Binary: Leibniz and the Origins of Computer Arithmetic,” based on my edition, with Lloyd Strickland, of thirty-two of Leibniz’s writings on binary (about to be published by MIT Press).

Both of these talks will be aimed at non-specialists and should be of broad interest. I hope that the Skolem lecture will be livecast, but have not gotten confirmation about that yet.

PS. Let me take this opportunity to flag what Don Knuth had to say after reading Leibniz on Binary (this arrived too late to appear on the back cover):

“This book is a model of how the history of computer science and mathematics should be written. Leibniz pointed out the importance of putting ourselves into the place of others, and here we get to put ourselves into the shoes of Leibniz himself, as we're treated to dozens of his private notes, carefully translated into idiomatic English and thoroughly explained.”
—Don Knuth, Professor Emeritus of The Art of Computer Programming, Stanford University

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

An early Harvard report on women's athletics

 Harvard took over responsibility for women's athletics in 1974. Until then, such teams as existed were administered by Radcliffe College, then a legally independent entity. This transition was one of several steps that eventually (but not rapidly) led to the end of the asymmetric status of women students at Harvard.

In connection with the ongoing commemoration of Title IX (which was enacted into law at about the same time, but was not then seen as having much to do with women's athletic opportunities), I found this Position Statement on Nomenclature for Men's and Women's Teams at Harvard, written in 1983. While limited in scope, it is a masterpiece of logic and precision, and I post it here for the historical record since it does not seem to be readily available elsewhere. I had seen it years ago, but hadn't even remembered it until I was at a basketball game a few years ago in which the Harvard women's team was playing the TCU "Lady Horned Frogs"--the sort of diminutive this report outlawed at Harvard.

Among the notable things about the report is the professional distinction of the Faculty members who came up with it, and the lack of any political disproportion among those achieving consensus on what were even then politically fraught issues. It would be hard at Harvard today to assemble a committee that politically balanced--if you also expected that its members would come up with anything of significance.